The Role of Peer-Reviewed Articles in Science Reporting

In the science community, if you want to know about someone’s research, you read the papers they have published in scientific journals. These papers contain all the information about their study – why the researcher thought it was relevant, what earlier research has been done, the methods the researcher used, and what conclusions they drew. These papers are the way that scientists share information, and they are written by scientists, for scientists. A scientist can be extremely successful in the science community by conducting strong, meaningful research and writing good papers. Unfortunately, outside of scientific fields (and universities, where students may be required to read scientific literature), not that many people read scientific papers. Journalists, for instance, who play a major role in making timely scientific information available to the public, often would prefer to speak directly to the author of a paper instead of simply reading the paper (Corey Hutchins, personal communication). This makes sense, considering that scientific journal articles can be daunting for non-scientists (or scientists in different fields) to read because they use very technical language and often assume background knowledge that readers in other disciplines might not have. It seems to me, then, that there might be an interesting divide in the science community between those who are good at writing technical papers but not talking about them, and those who are good at both. Because journalists would prefer to speak with experts, it is becoming increasingly important for experts to be able to verbally convey their research and understand its social and political implications. Likewise, it could also be said that journalists should become better at reading scientific literature in order to reach a wider range of experts.

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